Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is the Bible’s definition of faith opposed to logic and evidence?

Probably the biggest misconception that I encounter when defending the faith is the mistaken notion of what faith is. Today we are going to get to the bottom of what the Bible says faith is, once and for all. This post will be useful to Christians and atheists, alike.

What is faith according to the Bible?

I am going to reference this article from apologist Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason in my explanation.

Koukl cites three Biblical examples to support the idea that faith is not blind leap-of-faith wishing, but is based on evidence.

  1. Moses went out into the wilderness and he had that first encounter with the burning bush, and God gave him the directive to go back to Egypt and let his people go. Moses said, Yeah, right. What’s going to happen when they say, why should we believe you, Moses?God said, See that staff? Throw it down.Moses threw it down and it turned into a serpent.God said, See that serpent? Pick it up.And he picked it up and it turned back into a staff.God said, Now you take that and do that before the Jewish people and you do that before Pharaoh. And you do this number with the hail, and the frogs, and turning the Nile River into blood. You put the sun out. You do a bunch of other tricks to get their attention.And then comes this phrase: “So that they might know that there is a God in Israel.”
  2. [I]n Mark 2 you see Jesus preaching in a house, and you know the story where they take the roof off and let the paralytic down through the roof. Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.” And people get bugged because how can anyone forgive sins but God alone?Jesus understood what they were thinking and He said this: What’s harder to say, your sins are forgiven, or to rise, take up your pallet and go home?Now, I’ll tell you what would be harder for me to say : Arise, take up your pallet and go home. I can walk into any Bible study and say your sins are forgiven and nobody is going to know if I know what I am talking about or not. But if I lay hands on somebody in a wheelchair and I say, Take up your wheelchair and go home, and they sit there, I look pretty dumb because everyone knows nothing happened.But Jesus adds this. He says, “In order that you may know that the Son of Man has the power and authority to forgive sins, I say to you, arise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he got up and he got out. Notice the phrase “In order that you may know”. Same message, right?
  3. Move over to the Book of Acts. First sermon after Pentecost. Peter was up in front of this massive crowd. He was talking about the resurrection to which he was an eyewitness. He talked about fulfilled prophecy. He talked about the miraculous tongues and the miraculous manifestation of being able to speak in a language you don’t know. Do you think this is physical evidence to those people? I think so. Pretty powerful.Peter tells them, These men are not drunk as it seems, but rather this is a fulfillment of prophecy. David spoke of this. Jesus got out of the grave, and we saw him, and we proclaim this to you.Do you know how he ends his sermon? It’s really great. Acts 2:36. I’ve been a Christian 20 years and I didn’t see this until about a year ago. This is for all of those who think that if you can know it for sure, you can’t exercise faith in it. Here is what Peter said. Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” There it is again. “Know for certain.”

What is faith according to Bible-based theologians?

I am going to reference this article from theologian C. Michael Patton of Parchment and Pen in my explanation.

Patton explains that according to Reformation (conservative, Bible-based) theologians, faith has 3 parts:

  1. notitia - This is the basic informational foundation of our faith. It is best expressed by the word content. Faith, according to the Reformers must have content. You cannot have faith in nothing. There must be some referential propositional truth to which the faith points. The proposition “Christ rose from the grave,” for example, is a necessary information base that Christians must have.
  2. assensus - This is the assent or confidence that we have that the notitia is correct… This involves evidence which leads to the conviction of the truthfulness of the proposition… This involves intellectual assent and persuasion based upon critical thought… assensus… says, “I am persuaded to believe that Christ rose from the grave.”
  3. fiducia - This is the “resting” in the information based upon a conviction of its truthfulness. Fiducia is best expressed by the English word “trust.”… Fiducia is the personal subjective act of the will to take the final step. It is important to note that while fiducia goes beyond or transcends the intellect, it is built upon its foundation.

So, Biblical faith is really trust. Trust(3) can only occur after intellectual assent(2), based on evidence and thought. Intellectual assent(2) can only occur after the propositional information(1) is known.

The church today accepts 1 and 3, but denies 2. I call this “fideism” or “blind faith”. Ironically, activist atheists, (the New Atheists), also believe that faith is blind. The postmodern “emergent church” denies 1 and 2. A person could accept 1 and 2 but deny 3 by not re-prioritizing their life based on what they know to be true.

How do beliefs form, according to Christian philosophers?

I am going to reference a portion of chapter 3 of J.P. Moreland’s “Love Your God With All Your Mind” (i.e. – LYGWYM).

J.P. Moreland explains how beliefs form and how you can change them.

  1. Today, people are inclined to think that the sincerity and fervency of one’s beliefs are more important than the content… Nothing could be further from the truth… As far as reality is concerned, what matters is not whether I like a belief or how sincere I am in believing it but whether or not the belief is true. I am responsible for what I believe and, I might add, for what I refuse to believe because the content of what I do or do not believe makes a tremendous difference to what I become and how I act.
  2. A belief’s strength is the degree to which you are convinced the belief is true. As you gain ,evidence and support for a belief, its strength grows for you… The more certain you are of a belief… the more you rely on it as a basis for action.

But the most important point of the article is that your beliefs are not under the control of your will.

…Scripture holds us responsible for our beliefs since it commands us to embrace certain beliefs and warns us of the consequences of accepting other beliefs. On the other hand, experience teaches us that we cannot choose or change our beliefs by direct effort.

For example, if someone offered you $10,000 to believe right now that a pink elephant was sitting next to you, you could not really choose to believe this… If I want to change my beliefs about something, I can embark on a course of study in which I choose to think regularly about certain things, read certain pieces of evidence and argument, and try to find problems with evidence raised against the belief in question.

…by choosing to undertake a course of study… I can put myself in a position to undergo a change in… my beliefs… And… my character and behavior… will be transformed by these belief changes.

The article goes on to make some very informative comments on the relationship between apologetics and belief.

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7 Responses

  1. Steven Sarff says:

    This is well worth reading and thinking about. I think that your quoting of Patton was very good in that he breaks down the concept of faith into it’s component parts (Notitia, Assensus, Fiducia) and it helps to see that faith is not full grown until you have all three of those items, and perhaps one could argue that it doesn’t even exist with all three.

    Your evaluation that many accept only the first and third and call it faith is a valid one. To have only two of those when it comes to Jesus and God is to place them in the same realm as we do Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny: concepts which we are told and then we act upon but really no true persuasion based on evidence has ever happened.

    I think James writes to deals with those who accept the first and second but not the third. It is also a common problem. You must believe in something and that something might even be God (like the demons believe) but without action (fiducia), it is not a faith that will save.

    Two final comments:

    After quoting Patton, you stated that faith is trust. That might be a typo, or perhaps I do not understand, but if #3 is trust then faith which is a combination of all three, cannot also be trust…at least not ‘trust alone’

    In your last statement, you address the idea that our beliefs are not under our control. Is this so? His example of a pink elephant does not seem valid. If you offer me $10,000 or $10 million to “believe” in pink elephants, you would be going contrary to a life time of experience in which pink elephants do not exist. Nor would money be a suitable concept in which to base an attempt to change such a belief.

    However, preach the Gospel to someone and discuss with them righteousness, self-control, and judgement and you are likely to get a different response.

    The fact that we can change our beliefs is motive for the Gospel to be preached and God’s call for men everywhere to repent is based on that responsibility we have to have faith in God’s son.

    Finally, this whole concept of faith is a worthwhile topic to discuss and most important, I do agree that our faith is not some whim without evidence. There are good solid reasons for believing as we do.

    • Well, trust is not blind. You trust someone or something because you have reasons and evidence to ground the trust.

    • JMG says:

      Hmmm … its deja vu all over again.

      Steven,

      It is a very important discussion to have, I agree.

      Faith (synonymous with “belief”) is composed of only #1 & #2 (notitia & assentia). It is indeed a meaningless tautology to say that faith is the same thing as trust and then proceed to say that faith is composed of three parts, the third of which is fiducia (trust). You make a good observation here and it is correct to seek a solution to the problem of the 3 parts.

      I think it quite radical, however, to attempt to find a solution by saying that fiducia = action. Fiducia means, by definition, “trust”, not action. If faith must contain as part of itself any action, then faith is composed at least partly of works, for what else is an action but a work? Then what of “sola fide”? What of salvation by faith “apart from works”? Such a definition of faith effectively negates this idea.

      When you say:

      “I think James writes to deals with those who accept the first and second but not the third. It is also a common problem. You must believe in something and that something might even be God (like the demons believe) but without action (fiducia), it is not a faith that will save.”

      you are actually calling into question one of the two examples James gives in the later part of his chapter to illustrate what he is talking about.

      Does Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac to God (Genesis 22) qualify as an action that was necessary to make his faith a “real faith” instead of a “false faith”? If so, then why, 30 years earlier, does Genesis say that Abraham believed God and God reckoned or counted his belief to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6)? Genesis 22 is saying something about Abraham’s faith, but it is not saying that it was “unreal” faith until it became “real” through his “action”s in the episode with Isaac.

      Think about it.

      JMG

  2. Alien & Stranger says:

    In the children’s ministry that I do, the theme this term is faith. The person who compiled the lessons states that faith is knowing, believing, trusting (I’ll come back to this further down).
    I have explained to the children that they will be challenged on their faith by those who tell them they have blind faith. With blind faith, one has no evidence that one’s faith is true (I equated it with running on to the freeway and believing one won’t be hit by a car!). Our faith is not blind, because it is based on evidence and reason – there is the creation, which logic tells us cannot have happened by itself; there is the written Word, which God spoke to his prophets; and there is the Living Word, Jesus Christ, who is God with us (Emmanuel). However, it is God who reveals himself to us when he draws us to himself and we seek him, and the Holy Spirit brings revelation and understanding of who Jesus Christ is, what he has done for us through his crucifixion and resurrection, and brings conviction of sin and the realisation that we cannot save ourselves from God’s judgement, because the wages of sin is death, so we cannot pay that penalty and still live. When we repent and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, we are born again of the Holy Spirit, and we now “know God” instead of just knowing about him. However, there is also the aspect that faith is a gift from God – we cannot conjure it up.
    I explain that a child will jump off a wall into his father’s arms if he knows his father and knows he is trustworthy. Jesus spoke of having faith like a little child – a simple trust, like a child has in a loving parent. (We adults are full of “ifs” and “buts”!). Therefore, when God works in our lives to bring us to faith in Jesus Christ, we come to the place of believing in and trusting in him, and through that we come to know God as our Heavenly Father. As we walk with him, trusting him, he proves himself faithful – we believe and trust in him through knowing him.
    The term’s lessons have used OT saints as examples of men and women who had faith, who trusted in God’s promises (including Gideon, who wasn’t so sure at first and put out a fleece, literally!).
    I know this comment isn’t very intellectual, but I think often we complicate things too much…

  3. […] Yes. If you prove that the universe is eternal than would falsify the Bible’s claim that God created the universe out of nothing. That would be a scientific disproof. If you could find the body of Jesus still inside a tomb, that would falsify the Bible’s claim about a resurrection. That would be a historical disproof. The nice thing about Christianity is that we make lots of testable claims. Christianity is about forming beliefs that are in line with the available evidence. […]

  4. […] How to falsify a religion using scientific or historical evidence (winteryknight.wordpress.com) The absolute origin of the universe out of nothing is also incompatible with atheism, Buddhism, Mormonism, etc. because they also require an eternally existing universe. + If you prove that the universe is eternal than would falsify the Bible’s claim that God created the universe out of nothing. That would be a scientific disproof. If you could find the body of Jesus still inside a tomb, that would falsify the Bible’s claim about a resurrection. That would be a historical disproof. The nice thing about Christianity is that we make lots of testable claims. Christianity is about forming beliefs that are in line with the available evidence. […]

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